St Columbanus

Abbot (entered heaven this day in 615)

Dear Colin,

You probably want me to respond to your last note with a grandfatherly acquiescence.  Need I remind you that I am not your grandfather?  I am your uncle, and uncles have a certain responsibility not to acquiesce when their nephews are being foolish, and right now, if I dare to say it, you are being foolish.  It’s hard enough for a young man in the world today to live the virile chastity that Christ and the Church set out as an ideal; why you insist on aggravating this difficulty by getting drawn into a “serious” (which basically means “physical” if I read correctly between the lines) relationship baffles me.  Add to that this young lady’s lack of Christian faith and you have come up with a sure formula for heartbreak and regret.  Even if (and that’s a big “if”) you do continually resist the growing temptation to “go too far,” as you put it, there is no way you can stop your hearts from entwining more and more closely if you keep spending so much time together in that way.  My dear nephew, if you are not ready to make the commitment to marry (which, I gather, you aren’t; if only because you mention how you are still discerning a vocation to the priesthood), why are pretending to be engaged?  Trust me, you and your future wife (whether a particular woman or the Church) will be much happier if you reserve your heart for her and excise the romance from these “romantic” friendships.  You have only one heart (and so does she); don’t play around with it.

Today’s saint ran into a similar dilemma when he was about your age.  He resolved it nobly and courageously, and went on to become what many call the savior of western civilization.  He discerned his call to the religious life, and received training in holiness under the renown Irish monk, St Comgall, and when he was about 45 went with a dozen brother monks into Gaul (modern day France), hoping to spread the monastic life and reinvigorate the Church there, which was suffering from a decadent clergy, a worldly ruling class, and attacks by invading heathen barbarians.  He founded a series of monasteries based on the austere Irish rule of life, and soon won a reputation for authentic holiness that made him the beloved apostle of simple folk and the enemy of the jealous, corrupt hierarchy.  The local bishops colluded with the Christian rulers to have him expelled from Gaul, and he and his Irish monks made their way to Germany and Italy.  It was all in God’s plan, because they continued to found monasteries and other religious centers throughout Europe, and by the time Columbanus died, a necklace of spiritual fortresses had been constructed, which would preserve Christian and western civilization in the three sinister centuries that followed.

If at his youthful turning point he had not heeded the sound Christian advice that came to him, the course of world history (I do not exaggerate) would have been considerably altered, and probably not for the better.  What was this advice?  Well, when he was finishing his education he began to get entangled in some potentially disedifying relationships with a group of young ladies.  His conscience was tweaked, but he was sorely attracted to the lifestyle they were offering him.  He went for advice to an older woman who had led a solitary life of prayer and penance for years, and this is what she told him: “You think you can freely avoid women?  Do you remember Eve coaxing and Adam yielding?  Samson made weak by Delilah?  David lured from his former righteousness by the beauty of Bathsheba?  The wise Solomon deceived by love of women?  Go away, turn from the river into which so many have fallen.”  Pretty bombastic rhetoric, to be sure, but far from empty.  For now, my energetic young nephew, keep your heart secure with Christ in the tabernacle, and let your charity be universal.  He will let you know when the time for a “serious” relationship has come.

Your loving uncle,


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